AN operating theatre. The camera catches the handsome young surgeon's

piercing blue eyes from above his mask. It is a look of sheer

concentration. A nurse mops his sweating brow as he delivers his lines.

''Forceps,'' he says; ''clamp.'' In the background there is the steady

beep of a heart monitor. Everyone looks worried sick, and all they're

doing is removing a wean's tonsils.

Ah, don't you just love medical dramas. Well, someone must. Never

before in the history of television have there been so many of them on

our screens. The BBC, ITV and Channel Four seem to be permanently

engaged in a game of doctors and nurses.

Count them. Already this year we've had Casualty, Dangerfield, and Dr

Finlay. Currently we've got ER, Chicago Hope, and Peak Practice. Add to

this a list which has included Dr Kildare, Ben Casey, St Elsewhere,

Emergency Ward Ten, General Hospital, and A Country Practice, and you

soon realise that sickness, particularly when it's life-threatening, is

a healthy crowd puller for television.

Why? Is it a case of there but for the grace of God (and good health)

goes the viewer? Or is it perhaps because we get a vicarious pleasure

from seeing gallons of blood spilled on the operating table as patients

are cut open with the surgeon's scalpel? Maybe it's a bit like that

ghoulish compulsion we have about real accidents: how a crowd is always

drawn to the scene of a road crash.

Whatever the reason, it means a guaranteed audience rating. You want a

hit show? Then make it medical. Touch and go; life and death. There you

are of a Saturday evening, dipping into your tacco chips, and on the

screen before you is a scene which bears a striking resemblance to the

salsa sauce on the coffee table -- a shot of an emergency tracheotomy at

Holby General. And why is it that every time someone has a heart attack

on the telly, you suddenly feel a sharp pain in your arm, a mysterious

tightness in your chest? Or is that just me?

Of the current crop of medi-dramas, ER with its frantic pace, beats

all the rest into a cocked hat. Ambulances literally crash through the

double doors of the casualty department; hip doctors leap on top of

patients and thump their hearts back to life; surgeons cut to the sound

of James Brown blasting through a set of speakers in the operating

theatre -- and no scene is more than a minute long.

There are a number of standard character requirements for any

successful medical drama, of course. A hospital helps, for a start. Then

you need a heart-throb -- usually a conscientious, young male doctor

(divorced because his wife couldn't handle the long hours) who is

constantly under pressure and looks as if he's in danger of cracking up.

Then you need the flawed genius brain surgeon -- over-confident and

self-important; a man who does not respect authority, a man who takes


Naturally there also has to be a beautiful woman. She can either be a

doctor or a nurse -- maybe a receptionist at a pinch -- and she has to

have had an affair (now finished) with one or both of the aforementioned


Last, you need the voice of reason -- usually in the shape of a

balding, more mature doctor who's been there, seen it, done it, and

lived to tell the tale. The only requirement left is a sad collection of

patients, suffering from terminal cancer, extraordinarily rare diseases,

and serious injuries which need dramatic emergency treatment.

Then along comes the second series of Cardiac Arrest (BBC1, Wednesday)

and breaks the mould; kind of. The NHS hospital from Hell. Virginia

Bottomley's anti-Christ. If ER was fast, then this is positively racing.

In the first of eight half-hour shows there are more dead bodies than

you could shake a stethoscope at.

Directors Jim Gillespie and Sam Miller have built this one for speed.

Writer John McUre, a former junior doctor in an NHS hospital, tells it

like it is. It's riddled with humour that's darker than two in the

morning. You don't laugh at the jokes, you shudder. A young doc tries to

revive a patient suffering from horrendous chest injuries after a car

crash. The intern gives him cardiac massage but, as he thumps his chest,

his hands smash through the rib cage. ''Oops,'' says the doc.

Cardiac Arrest, made by Tony Garnett's World Productions for BBC

Scotland, was shot in an unused section of Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow.

Most of the cast from the first series return -- with the classy

addition of Australian Peter O'Brien (the pilot in Flying Doctors) as a

roller-skating surgical registrar aka ''Scissors''.

McUre says: ''The second series has been written to be faster. It's

better television; and in medicine lots of things are happening at once,

and people who can keep pace get better results.

''I was still working as a doctor when I wrote the first series, and

the experience I had then suggested there were other things that needed

to be said about the NHS. I became more politically involved with the

NHS through my involvement with the BMA and the Junior Doctors'


''In the past year there have been a lot of stories in the press

reflecting the relationships between doctors, nurses, and managers.

Managers are blaming the medical staff and hospital staff are blaming


McUre (his name is a pseudonym) hated his job as a doctor and he hopes

that the programme gets over the message that there's a great deal of

resentment and anger about the working conditions of junior hospital


''That's not something I can write about in a detached way. I was

there -- and those things happened to me. Not necessarily in the form

they're portrayed on television, but experiences like them happened all

the time. It's a very genuine personal anger and I've tried to put that

into the series,'' he says.

SEALED with a controversial kiss, Roger Michell's Screen Two film

adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion (BBC2, Sunday) will raise a few

eyebrows among the literary purists. For this classic love story,

starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, the respected director has

dispensed with much of the costume gloss we have come to expect from

television period drama. Instead he relies on a more realistic approach

with crumpled clothes and a conspicuous absence of fancy wigs.

Austen's tale concerns the relationship between the heroine, Anne

Elliot, and her ex-fiance, dashing naval captain Frederick Wentworth.

When the couple meet again seven years after their break-up, old

emotions come back to haunt them and, eventually, alter the course of

their lives.

Ultimately, the film strays from the author's original story line by

ending with a kiss between the two main characters. The passionate

embrace was insisted on by the BBC's co-producer, a US TV company, to

suit American audiences. Originally, Michell made two endings for the

film, one for the British and the other for the Americans. But when he

compared them he decided that the kiss was necessary, so he kept it in

for both sides of the Atlantic.

IT'S a choice between vicars and tarts on Sunday night as The Choir

(BBC1) and Band of Gold (Scottish) reach their respective conclusions.

Curiously, bearing in mind the very different subject matter, it could

be a difficult choice. Joanna Trollope's story of Middle England

cassock-and-surplice intrigue has improved over the course of its

four-week run, thanks to some fine casting and well-paced direction.

But it's Kay Mellor's gritty, compelling, North of England drama about

prostitutes which wins on points. In the final episode we find out the

identity of Gina's killer -- who could be one of half-a-dozen male

characters, each one seedier than the one before. Thanks to the success

of the series -- 14 million viewers have tuned in every week -- Granada

Television has now embarked upon a sequel.

Trollope, meanwhile, would appear to be the flavour of the month on

television. A Village Affair (Scottish, Monday), a two-hour adaptation

of another of her novels, stars Sophie Ward, Kerry Fox, and Nathaniel

Parker. It is, as its name rather suggests, the story of a passionate

and illicit love affair which explodes one summer in an apparently

idyllic English village.

JIMMY Perry and David Croft have provided television with some of the

most durable sitcoms of the past 25 years, including It Ain't Half Hot

Mum, Dad's Army, and Hi-de-Hi! Now Omnibus (BBC1, Tuesday) celebrates

their writing partnership. The affectionate profile traces their career

from its origins in the early sixties.

Croft, then a respected director of classic comedy shows, was working

on Hugh And I and cast Perry in a minor role. During conversation, Perry

suggested the idea for a sitcom based on his experiences in the Home

Guard -- and Dad's Army was born. Later the pair, who had both been

stationed in India during their National Service, started working on It

Ain't Half Hot, Mum.

They discuss their work, which they describe as ''the comedy of

failure'', and the origins of some of their key characters. The

programme also includes contributions from, among others, Bob Monkhouse,

Clive Dunn and Su Pollard.

THIS week sees the welcome return of the

perfectly-rehearsed-but-entirely-spontaneous quiz show, Have I Got News

For You (BBC2, Friday). Julian Clary and Labour MP Diane Abbott join the

usual suspects: Merton, Hislop, and Deayton, in the first of the new

series. Safe to assume that Nick Leeson, the latest round of ministerial

resignations, and Martin Amis's very expensive teeth will feature in the

ensuing weeks.

In a bid to keep the show fresh, some new rounds have been introduced.

They include one on the daft sentences handed out by even dafter judges,

another about celebrity quangos, and a third in which each team is

provided with the plans to some of Britain's top jails and invited to

plot an escape.